OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Haloti Ngata was a popular man at the Baltimore Ravens’ training complex Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours after receiving a five-year, $61 million contract, Ngata was the target of some good-natured barbs from his teammates.
“Nobody asked me for a loan,” the standout defensive tackle said. “They just asked me to give them money.”
Truth is, the players don’t want Ngata’s cash. But they’re glad he got it.
“It’s money well spent,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “He’s a once-in-a-decade player.”
The Ravens didn’t have to sign Ngata to a long-term deal before Tuesday’s deadline. They could have continued to apply the franchise tag to the two-time Pro Bowl star. But now both Ngata and the team have the security they wanted.
“I don’t have to worry about it throughout the season,” Ngata said. “I don’t have to worry about getting injured and worry about my performance. I can just go out there and play the game I want to play.”
The Ravens, in turn, are assured the services of a durable, quick-footed tackle who serves as a road block in the front of a perennial outstanding unit.
“It sets the personality of the defense,” coach John Harbaugh said. “The impact he has on our defense — the personality, the tone he sets — we can be a dominant defense in a lot of ways because he’s that presence in the middle. They always say you want to strong up the middle, and we’re pretty strong up the middle.”
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was a strong proponent of the deal, so much that he jokingly said Wednesday that Ngata should give him a portion of the deal.
“Just a small piece,” Lewis said with a grin, adding that he’s “overexcited” about the contract.
So is Ngata, who didn’t publicly grouse about being the franchise player but didn’t deny his desire for a long-term contract. His teammates were 100 percent on his side.
“As the process went on we kept up with it, asking how things are going,” Johnson said. “And it was weird because while we usually have no interest in another guy’s contract, we’re all there fighting for him. Then, when we got the news, everyone was all fired up. It’s an individual contract between you and your agent, but it was kind of like a team thing because that’s how big he is to the organization.”
Big, as in 6’4″, 330 pounds. Big, as in the key component of a defense known for its ability to stop the run.
“He’s the most defensive tackle in the NFL, so that means in the world,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “His play last year helped me a lot. The kid’s dedication and is just amazing. You got to tip your hat to him. He’s worth every penny.”
Drafted with the 12th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Ngata, 27, might get even better over the next few years.
“I don’t think he’s bumped to his greatest side of playing yet,” Lewis said.
Unless, as Johnson said kiddingly, Ngata takes the money and runs.
“Anytime you sign a big contract you’re going to take some heat about shutting it down, but Haloti’s not going to do that,” Johnson said. “He’s too good of a person, too good of a player.”
Barring injury — and Ngata has only missed two games in five-plus seasons — the Ravens are set on defense through the 2015 season.
“You see guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and to be in that type of company is really humbling,” Ngata said.
Those players seem to feel the same way about him.
“There are very few players in the NFL that can be considered Ravens. The ones (the organization) think are Ravens, they tend to keep here,” Suggs said. “Haloti is one, myself, Ed Reed, Ray. All those guys. They do a good job keeping guys with that Ravens identity.”
Next on the list: Running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco. Rice’s contract ends after this year and Flacco’s expires after the 2012 season. Both can only hope to get the same treatment as Ngata.
“I firmly believe that I am going to be here for a while,” Rice said.
Flacco said, “It’s great for Haloti to get a great deal, and I think, hopefully in the future, all of us are going to get a new deal. I’m just glad for Haloti right now. I am not really thinking about myself.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)